Church Road – the rest of the story

The visual observer (Brenda) snuck in a shot that fateful evening.

Through the recent Church Road post you were able to see some of the positive things that came out of our visit to Church Road, but there is more to the story. Let me start at the beginning. Over this recent Labor Day weekend Brenda and I camped at Mahoney State Park. It is a short country drive from Mahoney to Church Road. On that Sunday evening, September 3, 2017 we drove out to Church Road, where we first flew Trinity Lutheran Church (the beautiful white church) and then flew Immanuel Lutheran Church (the beautiful red brick church). Pastor Sollberger of Immanuel Lutheran Church and his family were home that evening, so talked with them and got his permission to flew. Conditions were perfect. The sun was going down against a hazy humid sky, giving the sun a bright orange glow. We were near the end of our shooting when I received a low battery warning. Nothing unusual about that, but it may have been one of the distractions that played into the event. Others might just refer to it as my excuse. Regardless, my visual observer (Brenda – visual observer is her official FAA crew member designation) confirmed with me that I heard the low battery warning. The plan was to finish this sweeping shot and call it a night. The video sweep was nearly complete when I saw some tree branches come into view on the lower portion of my display. I thought out loud and said ‘I hope we clear those tree branches’. Before I had a chance to react I got an answer to my question. I did NOT clear the branches and so we now had our first drone crash. We’ve had close calls in the past, like flying through electrical wires without a scratch while droning a golf course. In those cases we narrowly avoided accidents, but in this case we estimate the drone fell 50 to 60 feet while trimming cottonwood branches all the way down. Here is a quick 27 second clip of that final sweeping video (and I mean final). Note the swirling video at the very end as the drone heads down the tree.

The damage was significant: one twisted support arm, bent landing gear / feet, damaged propellers and that was just the damage we could see. Pastor Sollberger was of course concerned after witnessing the event. He offered his sympathy, but we really could have used his prayers. Our holiday weekend had gone sour in a hurry. We spent the next week attempting to repair it ourselves. New upper and lower shells, along with new landing gears.

Note the Phantom 4 damage on the lower left arm.

That had to hurt!

That left a mark.

What an amazing piece of technology, especially after seeing all the parts involved: GPS, sensors, camera, gimbal, antenna, lights, motors, etc.

After putting all my soldering and other repair skills to work I was quickly humbled when the drone produced a significant error upon boot up. ;-( Off to the manufacturer it went. After spending three weeks at DJI, where more parts were replaced (one new rotor engine) and thorough testing was completed, we received it back from them yesterday. During this repair time, business marched onward. We did what all responsive businesses would do … buy another drone. 😉 It is a painful way to grow your fleet. We quickly got our hands on DJI’s latest drone, the Spark. Like the Phantom, it is an impressive drone. The biggest difference is the size. Flying a Phantom 4 is like driving an SUV or truck. Flying the Spark is like driving a small sports car or motorcycle.

My visual observer and I are going to do our level best to make sure this is the last drone accident we experience. Stay tuned to see if we are successful!

Immanuel Lutheran Church – September 3, 2017

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